Flick Fixation

Gary Davis' cinéma is so vérité, sometimes it brings the cops rushing to the set

After the screening, Davis stands in the doorway as his fans, his actors, and their families file past. A few go by without a word, a sure sign they hated it. He says his worst insult ever was when a guy told him his hype wasn't worth his movies. But most congratulate him as if he just had a baby. They gush about the action scenes, swoon over the plot. They want to know how they can buy a copy and plead with him to show it again.

"All I want," Davis says between the praise, "is for them to get it. If they got the story, then it's a success, and I think they got this one."

As for another showing, it's unlikely. Davis has moved on. He has a new movie to shoot.

Jade and the White Tiger, a martial-arts flick shot at an Orlando theme park
Jade and the White Tiger, a martial-arts flick shot at an Orlando theme park
Davis hopes his next movie, Jade and the White Tiger, will finally bring him fame.
Davis hopes his next movie, Jade and the White Tiger, will finally bring him fame.

The girl has just changed into her bikini, its green straps sticking out from her low-rise pants, when Davis asks her to step outside with him. Usually, Davis is thinking faster than he talks. His sentences tend to run together in incoherent strings. He laughs about it because he knows his mouth can't keep up with his head. But for now, for a fleeting minute, he talks seriously with the beautiful girl. "This I'm going to say to you, and I'll say it to the other girl too," he says, with a fatherly hand on her shoulder. "You should steal the scene. You should steal the scene from him and from the other girl, and you should make it your own. This scene to me is about the beautiful girl. Sometimes it's action, but now it's about the girl."

Lindsey Mullings, trim and baby-faced at 19 years old, looks confident. "I'm not ugly -- that's good."

Back inside the apartment where Davis is shooting A Sinner's Prayer, he gets the pair of girls to slip into the hot tub. They sip champagne while Pabon, the lead in the movie, puffs on a stogie. At first, the girls were just supposed to be eye candy in the scene, but Davis wants more. "She needs to be working for his attention the whole time. Do whatever you would do to get a guy's attention. You want to make Tyra Banks look bad."

When filming begins, Davis inserts a new beginning to the scene. It was supposed to start with Pabon in the hot tub with the girls. Instead, Davis has Mullings enter from the apartment. His camera follows her as she struts across the patio. The camera pans up and down as she struggles to push her tight jeans over her hips while barely keeping her bikini bottoms from following. Then she slips toenail-first into the bubbling water.

These girls, the starlets who might even steal the scene, came about acting like many in Davis' movies. Mullings was working at a jewelry store at the mall when Pabon approached her. Using what sounds like a pathetic pickup line, he asked her to be in his movie. "I just go up and say, "You have a great look. I'm making a movie and you need to be in it. '" As most do, she said yes.

This movie is a dream for Pabon. He wrote it and stars in it, and, in fact, it's something of an autobiography. The movie is the story of a gangster who's being chased by the FBI as he pulls off bigger and bigger heists. As the end comes, though, he finds God and remakes himself. Pabon never got that deep into trouble, but back in his native Cleveland, he used to run a numbers operation -- underground lottery -- and got caught up in the street life before starting a born-again trip. Pabon now runs the Manhattan Suit City store in the Palm Beach Mall, and last year, he ran a commercial on a show Davis produces for WXEL. Afterward, he convinced the filmmaker to join him on the project.

At 28 years old, Pabon is spontaneous and likable. He's a celebrity at the mall. At the coffee shop, the guy at the register asks if he can be in his movie, and the girl frothing the milk offers her services. "I'm studying theater," she tells him. "Let me know if you ever need a grip." While working at the store, Pabon did some extra work in films shot in Miami. He appeared briefly in Any Given Sunday and There's Something About Mary. It got him thinking that maybe the moviemaking business wasn't so hard. "This movie's gonna blow people's minds," he says. "They'll see me selling drugs and shooting people, and then I find God in the end."

The actors -- dozens of them, mostly Pabon's mall discoveries -- sign contracts that they will be paid "what's reasonable" if A Sinner's Prayer goes big-time. Pabon wants to enter it in film festivals and dreams that a studio may pick it up. Either way, it's remarkable how many people want a part.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, Pabon arranges for Davis to shoot a scene in an unlikely spot. Using Pabon's mall connections, they take over the lobby and boardroom at the Police Benevolent Association's office in West Palm, bringing together a guerrilla filmmaker with a building full of cops.

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